How might a Christian think about the 4th of July? Perhaps by remembering a French mathematician.
Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French mathematician. He was also something of an Christian apologist. That is, someone who argued for the validity and truthfulness of the Christian faith. I was introduced to Pascal by one of my favorite professors from seminary, Doug Groothuis.
One of his arguments for Christianity is one that has been called “The Anthropological Argument.” Put simply, this was an argument for the validity of the Christian worldview based on the human condition (hence, anthropological). Pascal argued that human beings are at once capable of incredible greatness but also terrible wickedness. This, he argued, is true on an individual level, but it is also evident at a societal level. Human beings are in a sense “deposed royalty.” And this paradoxical nature of our nature (or anthropology) is a signpost that points us toward our human origin story as beings created in the image and likeness of God (therefore capable of greatness), but fallen into sin (therefore capable of great wickedness). The Christian worldview is unique among all other worldviews in its ability to account for both of these aspects in our human nature, and therefore it is worth considering.
The results of our fallenness we see played out all around us every day. But also, if we are honest, we see this played out in our own hearts. The great potential we have to love and care for others, while at the same time hidden layers of jealousy, resentment, and secret thoughts and actions we’d never want to reveal to those around us.
Pascal’s argument came to mind today as I reflected on the United States and the celebration of Independence Day.
If we are going to be honest about our nation, it is true that our nation is one that is capable of, and has achieved, high levels of greatness. And along with these high levels of greatness, we have also been responsible for great wickedness. So much so that on this July 4th, nearly 250 years after our founding, there are still wounds wide open and bleeding into our newsfeeds and newspapers. News of racial trauma that has never healed. Resentment about a nation founded upon ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. Not because the founding principles were poorly chosen, but because they were not applicable to all of the humans in this nation.
We are a nation of “deposed royalty.”
Full of greatness, but also great wickedness and sin.
Pascal accurately described the nature of our nation more than a century before we were founded, not because he could read the future, but because he could read his Bible – and also his own heart.
He was able to accurately describe the heart of America, because it is the condition of every heart and nation that has ever lived throughout history.
But Pascal’s worldview didn’t just allow for an accurate diagnosis of the problem of America (or any nation), it also gave the prescription for healing. The gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is the story of the God who created this great humanity. And although we have forsaken our “royal” lineage in order to build our own personal kingdoms, this Creator entered into his creation to redeem and reconcile with his rebellious sons and daughters by offering himself as a substitute for their wickedness. As a result peace with God and peace with one another is possible. Peace that releases us from our bondage to our fallenness, and allows us to authentically live into our greatness.
At the cross of Jesus Christ, Dethroned Royalty rescued deposed royalty.
And as a result we find access to the source of healing for our own hearts, but also the healing that our nation needs. Not vicious cancel culture that excommunicates anyone who steps out of line. Not blind patriotism that relies upon revisionist history at the expense of truth.Not partisan gamesmanship or “eye-for-an-eye” ethics.
But instead, we can be recipients of grace who extend grace to others and labor for love and justice where it is lacking or missing.
How should a Christian celebrate the 4th of July? By rejoicing in the reality and blessings that come from living in the wealthiest nation in history, while also seeing the wickedness that allowed that wealth to be amassed. By being grateful for the “freedom” that we live with while also acknowledging the freedom that many never had. By being thankful for the soldiers who served his country selflessly, but also seeing that some of those soldiers (black and brown ones) returned from war to be greeted not with “thank you” but racial slurs and segregation.
Truly Christian thinking allows us the freedom to see the greatness of America while also seeing the great sinfulness of our past and present. The reason we can see this is because truly Christian thinking is built upon an understanding of humanity (an anthropology), that recognizes both our greatness and our wickedness.
Created in the perfect image and likeness of God.
Fallen into deep sin.
Restored to hope in redemption through Jesus.
Happy 4th of July, friends.